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Making the most of a winter hike to the top of Ben Nevis, the UK's highest peak nestled in the striking Scottish Highlands

Nature can have a profound positive impact on our mental wellbeing so while I waited for my passport to be renewed I decided to embark on a journey a little closer to home, and the wild and rugged moors of Scotland never looked so appealing. Paired with a long desire to climb Ben Nevis, I packed walking boots and waterproofs and set off to Glasgow, the starting point for my Scottish adventure. 

hill views while climbing Ben Nevis
Stunning views while climbing Ben Nevis

Having never visited Scotland’s largest city before I checked into Grasshoppers Hotel, right in the city centre overlooking Glasgow’s Central Train Station with its huge glass panelled ceiling. After a restful night’s sleep I drove two-and-a-half-hours towards Fort William, leaving Glasgow and its high-rises behind. Once out of the city suburbs, the scenic route took in the whole 24-mile length of glimmering Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park that surrounds it—a magical first glimpse of the Scottish highlands, made even more beautiful by the orange, gold and crimson autumn leaves dancing delicately on trees above. Awaking early the next day to birdsong and drizzle, the day of my Ben Nevis hike had arrived. With my snack-filled backpack already waiting in the car I drove along winding misty roads to the Ben Nevis car park and visitor centre where it's easy enough to find a spot to park. More rain set in and the few cars in the car park proved I’d almost have the mountain to myself. By 9.15am I was on my way through mossy fields towards the UK’s highest peak. 

How tall is Ben Nevis?

For my hike I couldn’t see the top of Ben Nevis due to low-lying cloud. I later learned the summit is only visible for an average of 30 days per year due to it being a massive 1,345 meters (4412 feet) high. It’s not unusual to experience a variety of temperatures and weather conditions throughout the hike and that proved true for my Ben Nevis climb. For most of my ascent visibility was pretty minimal and rain featured heavily, meaning I had to pick up speed to stay warm on the way up, while coming down I was treated to sunshine reminiscent of a spring afternoon. 

How long does it take to hike Ben Nevis?

For the first two thirds of the hike, the path is easy enough to follow, with burnt orange ferns lining the way, but the higher I climbed the more rocky the path (or lack of it) became. I’ve never been happier to be wearing walking boots as attempting this trek without them could have proved lethal.

sweeping views while climbing Ben Nevis
Views from the start of my Ben Nevis climb

As my walk progressed, visibility became less and less. Huge, man-made pyramids of rock slowly emerged from cloud and fog to provide the only reassurance I was on the right track. Eventually, three and a half hours later, wet and tired I reached the top of Ben Nevis, where the temperature was close to freezing. Although I didn’t get sweeping panoramic views from the summit, reaching the cloud-covered top with only a few people in sight made it all the more atmospheric. 

Ben Nevis summit surrounded by mist and cloud
The summit of Ben Nevis

The descent proved almost harder than the climb up. Using core strength along with leg muscles that don’t usually get used, paired with an acute concentration on which rocks to stand on made it tiring and long. For an hour I descended with little visibility, wondering if I’d ever catch a glimpse of my surroundings, before suddenly a break appeared in the wispy grey cloud to reveal Lochan Meall An T-suidhe, a huge expanse of water reflecting the tin coloured shade of the sky above. With no visibility on the way up I’d missed these views completely, but now, with the relief of already reaching the top of Ben Nevis behind me, I enjoyed them all the more. 

A glimpse of Lochan Meal An T-suidhe from my Ben Nevis hike
A glimpse of Lochan Meal An T-suidhe from my Ben Nevis hike

Finally, seven hours after I started out that morning, I reached, once again, the foot of the mighty mountain, elated but exhausted and more ready than ever for a large glass of whiskey.

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